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Around 20,000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat in 2013. Almost 5,000 of them arrived after 19 July 2013, the day the government announced that henceforth no refugee arriving by boat would be settled in Australia. About 2,500 people were randomly chosen to be exiled to Nauru (for women, unaccompanied minors and families) and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (men travelling alone). They were banished to prisons constructed by Australia in those places.

Australian immigration had a system that was oblivious to people’s needs. They incited aggression, drove people to self-harm, and told many lies to manipulate people. They tried to erode kindness, positivity, health and honesty. The 2,500 chosen victims were quiet, honest, positive and cooperative people. They were selected with no regard for their age, gender or their underlying health conditions. They were exiled and incarcerated in a site that represented the opposite of everything they stood for.

Why me?

This was the first question everyone held in Nauru asked themselves. Why me? My friend Parry once told me, “We were 60 people in the boat that arrived at Christmas Island on the eighth of August, 2013. Only 10 of us were exiled to Nauru, three single men to Manus, and the rest of the people in that boat were kept in Australian onshore detention centres before receiving visas after a year and a half and moved into the Australian community. This is so unfair.”

This two-word question, ‘Why me?’, launched me on a path towards a serious identity crisis. This was just the beginning of a bleak and tragic experience, and I was headed towards a profound breakdown.

Every time I visited or interviewed people who were suffering from debilitating mental health problems I got the impression that they were punishing themselves. Through self-harm, attempted suicide, hunger strikes, or any other possible way to hurt themselves, they were taking revenge on themselves. They finally understood how the system worked, why they were taken to Nauru, why they were trapped there. After those asylum seekers who remained on Christmas Island were given visas, the others who were sent to offshore processing centres felt foolish and naïve. They saw no value in remaining peaceful, positive and cooperative. They saw no reason to look after themselves.

The Australian Department of Home Affairs gives their citizens the impression that people seeking asylum will cause trouble for them, when in reality it is the government that does everything in its power to incite violence. This violence is inflicted on the refugees, on their bodies and souls. Border violence also harms the Australian people; the lies, corruption and damage to vulnerable refugees also inflicts violence indirectly on Australians. The system is indiscriminate – it does not matter if people have diabetes, are pregnant, or even have cancer. What do you call a system that makes people hate themselves to the extent that they forego their feelings of compassion and positivity?

Unfortunately what the Australian government has done to us has become an example to other countries. Right wing conservatives in Europe and the UK have looked to Australia as a model, and President Trump praised Australia’s policies as a great success and as an example of effective border protection policies. This influence is inspiring and it facilitates crimes against humanity on a global scale.

Searching for Aramsayesh Gah and other projects are a great opportunity for me to talk to the Australian people and empower refugees who have been held in Nauru and Manus Island. The Australian government has continuously accused us of being dangerous, dishonest, and a drain on the system, amongst other things. Australian politicians like Peter Dutton, the minister for home affairs, and Scott Morrison, the current prime minister, have manipulated the Australian people and used us as political pawns for their own agenda. They have been engaged in a war on refugees to further their own political aims. Stand with me as we fight back.

Translated by Omid Tofighian